LG Prada KE850 touchscreen phone
Ab fab - or drab?
Review You can tell a lot about a device from the state it arrives in after its been pawed over by heaven knows how many sweaty-palmed handset hacks. It's clear LG's KE850, co-designed by Italian fashion house Prada, has not had an elegant time of it.
Think bright, innocent debutante dropped unexpectedly into a nest of vipers. Not a pretty sight.
Now, to be fair, this isn't the treatment I'd expect a KE850 purchased by the kind of cosmopolitan phone buyer LG is aiming at to give the handset, but it's nonetheless testamant to the phone's inability to live up to the rigours of modern life. If you don't take very good care of your stylish possession, it could end up in a sorry state indeed. As so many phones do, of course. But one as centred on looks as the KE850 should shine no matter what.
Out of the box, the KE850 is a slim - 9.9 x 5.4 x 1.2cm - shiny black monolith of a phone, all 2001: A Space Odyssey meets iPod. Prada's name is embossed in silver letters on the front - LG's logo is relegated to a screen-print on the back.
Below the Prada logo is the 3in display - all 240 x 400 pixels of it - then a sliver of a silver bar that forms the call make and break buttons and, between them, the back-a-step key.
The handset's rear is home to the two-megapixel camera and light, both discretely tucked right up into the top-left corner and set in a milled metal panel. It's a shame LG didn't used the same material to wrap the handset around its top, base and sides instead of the decidedly cheap-looking chrome-look plastic it picked instead. Even without the handset's rough handling before I got it, this would fail to look stylish. It looks like a toy.
The band is home to a wrist lanyard anchor point; the control-lock button; a music player activation key that doubles up as the camera's shutter switch; a now chrome-less button to release the battery compartment cover; scroll up and scroll down keys; an OK button; and a tiny hatch covering the port for the AC adaptor, which is also where you connect the bundled black wireless headset.
But if the handset's hardware fails to make a fashion statement, its software is a thing of beauty. The KE850 starts up into a them of black icons with white highlights befitting its designer brand. On the 262,144-colour screen, the on-screen iconography is smooth and artistic in a way so few phone UIs are, even the latest Series 60 and certainly not the Palm OS or Windows Mobile.
The main screen incorporates the usual status bar at the top, above a blank space inhabited by a floating clock face. Literally floating - touch it and you can drag it around the screen. Double-tap it and an alarm icon pops up alongside it. Tap that and you can set the alarm time. The UI's full of surprises like this: right up to the end of the time I had with the phone, I was still finding new tricks you can perform with the UI.
The Prada phone's main display (left) and applications menu (right)
At the bottom of the screen is a row of tab-like icons - but artfully done - for the phone's application menu, the dial pad, the messaging app and the contacts list.
The dial pad is a pleasure to use. It's very responsive, with almost no lag between tap and the appearance of the number on the screen. There's no bevel round the screen as there is with so many PDA-style phones, and the buttons are a big enough for even large-fingered fellows like me to tap away without catching the wrong one. The same is true of the text-entry pad. I have never used a phone touch-screen that's as easy to use as this one.
The KE850's dial pad display
The UI as a whole works well when manipulated digitally, even when you're pushing scroll-bar sliders. As I said, there are two scroll keys just in case, but these are so small, raised so little above the casing and with so little movement, they're harder to use when you're holding the KE850 one-handed than using your thumb to push buttons and scroll through options lists.
A trip to the KE850's application menu sees the various utilities available divided into four categories - Phone, Media, PIM and Setting - each selected by tapping a tab, this time on the right of the screen. As each is selected, the app icons slide into view from the left. Cute, very cute.
About the only thing you can't do is customise it - well, not beyond changing the UI theme to one of the three other pre-loaded skins, including a rather Mac OS X-ish blue one - so there's no changing the order of the icons, what category they appear under, or what apps are called up when you tap the tabs on the main screen.
The KE850's apps deliver all the features you'd expect from a mid-range phone these days. The camera works well enough, with a neat live-zoom enabled if the image size is 640 x 480 or under. The pictures are smooth rather than crisp but not bad as phones go. I've seen better - and worse.
Flipping off the battery compartment cover reveals the 750mAh battery and, above it, the SIM slot. The battery life isn't stellar - I got about a day's use out of it. The SIM goes in without the battery having to be removed, but you do have to take out the power pack to populate the tiny Micro SD slot located right underneath the SIM bay.
A card is de rigueur - the KE850 contains just 8MB of memory, enough for one, maybe two MP3 songs or a small album of photos taken using the two-megapixel, autofocus-equipped camera.
I vant to be alone... but not with an iPhone
The Prada is a tri-band GSM/GPRS phone. The call quality's pretty good, too - the sound is as clear and as crisp as the KE850's UI. So is the MP3 playback. Bluetooth is ready for mono and stereo headset connections, and dial-up networking - though you'll need a suitably stylish laptop to go with it, vero, no?
Like Apple's black MacBook, for instance. But then surely if you have one of those you'll want an iPhone. Cute though the KE850's UI is, the iPhone's gesture-driven alternative looks set to be so much better, its feature list is longer, and its iPod-like styling will draw more awed glances too. But the LG handset has the edge on size - face on, it's about a centimetre smaller - and you can buy one now.
LG and Prada's joint effort has the looks of a sleek digital music player and if some of the styling's a tad tacky, it hides an inner beauty: one of the slickest, smartest user interfaces around - at least until Apple's iPhone hits the High Street.